Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Veil On Display

Yesterday, I went to the Austrian Cultural Forum to see their current exhibit on the veil. Part of the recent NY Muslim Arts and Ideas festival, this exhibition, The Seen And The Hidden: [Dis]covering the Veil, brings nuance and personal immediacy to a subject and a debate in which those ingredients are often lacking. Below are a sampling of some of my favorite pieces.

This piece, created by Asma Ahmed Shikoh, features hijabs from 100 women across the United States incorporated into a honeycomb-shaped sculpture. On each cell of the honeycomb, Shikoh has provided the name, city as well as some detail about the meaning of this particular scarf of each participant. I found this piece to be particularly powerful because of the personal connection that the artist encourages between the viewer and these women. The intimate information she provides forces the public to recognize these women as individuals, rather than members of a nameless bloc, with personal histories which inform the range of reasons why they have chosen to wear the veil.

I was particularly drawn to this piece because of the additional nuance that Esin Turan brings to the discussion. By using highly charged symbols such as the veil and the rainbow flag, he introduces alternative perceptions of gender and sexualtiy into the public consciousness, creating an unexpected twist in veil debate.

My subversive side took particular pleasure in this piece. Apparently the artist, Princess Hijab, has carried out a sort of guerrila warfare in the streets of Paris painting veiled women, such as these to the left, on outdoor advertisements around the city. With so many French threatened by the idea of women in headscarfs roaming the streets, seeing this ad must have really shook them up.

Especially this one with a woman smiling while wearing the scarf. Someone must have put her up to it!

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